Fantastic Fest 2022: The Offering

High energy frights, religion and family ties make for an overly familiar horror outing, albeit one with a pleasingly mean streak.

Synopsis: A family struggling with loss finds themselves at the mercy of an ancient demon trying to destroy them from the inside.

Arthur (Nick Blood) is returning to his roots, bringing along his wife Claire (Emily Wiseman) for what will be a tense reunion. While his father Saul (Allan Corduner) does seem to want to welcome him back, a more chilly reception awaits him from Heimish (Paul Kaye). Familial differences are not the only issue, however, as a body brought to the funeral home proves to be anything but routine.

The opening scene of The Offering functions as a decent showcase for what is to come, introducing a scene of religious-leaning horror, based around a demon known as ‘the taker of children’. With that unpleasant groundwork laid, the film switches to Arthur and Emily, starting to foreground Arthur’s departure from his community and the tension that brings to both of them. That they are visiting a funeral home soon sets expectations for creepy goings-on that the film is keen to progress.

Placing the action in a Jewish community presents an opportunity for the film to explore some often-underexplored customs and beliefs but this is arguably one of the film’s weaknesses. Throughout, you want more of that identity, more of those elements that could help it stand out. Aside from a few moments of ritual that are both compelling as well as important set ups for later events, this feels far too divorced from it, resulting in a film that feels too similar to many other horror films. This is not aided by some uninspiring CGI and a colour scheme that fails to differentiate it from other genre pieces.

Where the film works well is in the way it mostly confines characters to the funeral home, building up the pressure but also a kind of geography of the house that translates to the viewer, adding to the anticipation of the next scare. The Offering does possess some great kinetic energy with the funeral home doors slamming and swinging to avoid things feeling static in the same surroundings. Elsewhere an otherwise well-worn scare involving a camera finds a partial swerve that satisfies. However, much of this became standard jump scare fare with sudden bursts of volume drawing attention over anything more unique.

Those with more of an appetite for this kind of horror will likely rate this much higher and it should certainly find an audience looking for a late-night creep-fest.

2.5 out of 5 stars

2.5 out of 5 stars

The Offering screened as part of Fantastic Fest 2022. Find out more about the festival at their webpage.

Sideworld: Terrors of the Sea

The Rubicon Films team tackle the mysteries of the deep in this documentary.

Synopsis: Director George Popov presents a voyage exploring terrifying ghostly tales of the sea and monstrous horrors from the deep.

Producing two documentaries within a year is not to be sniffed at, especially ones as rounded as both Sideworld outings. I’ve previously reviewed the Sideworld: Haunted Forests of England on the blog and thankfully, Terrors of the Sea follows in the footsteps of that production in terms of its construction and focus on smaller, easy-to-follow myths, legends and supposed encounters.

The sea is, to put it simply, terrifying. Vast and with so many elements still unknowable (or at least incredibly difficult to research) it represents many things beyond human comprehension. As the documentary itself states, the sea has often been framed as a ‘dwelling for ancient and cosmic evil’. It is no surprise then, that myths, legends and stories come to fill in the gaps of understanding, but often spark more questions than answers.

Like the haunted forests counterpart, Terrors of the Sea breaks its hauntings into sections, focusing on ghostly vessels, sea monsters, tragic sailors and mermaids. There are passing references to perhaps more well-known stories that segue into smaller tales that are given specific focus. In most, the human side of these stories is focused on: love affairs gone wrong, indifference to those in need of help and a human tendency toward violence in the face of the unknown. This again, helps in the balance for sceptical viewers, with the stories able to be understood as genuine sightings or cautionary tales developed to warn us of our own destructive tendencies.

In dealing with the more otherworldly elements the film leans into illustrations and ponders other explanations. The on-screen text draws focus, where necessary, to multiple sightings, connecting the myths to glimpses of personal experiences. Illustrations are used to highlight these stories, all supported by the calm, reflective narration of George Popov. There is less emphasis on eyewitness sightings described via voiceover but where they do appear they so much to provide a spooky atmosphere.

At just over an hour long, Terrors of the Sea arrives as another example of Rubicon Films’ short but perfectly formed illustrated documentaries.

4 out of 5 stars

4 out of 5 stars

Sideworld: Terrors of the Sea is now available on Prime Video.

The Razing

An exercise in confined filmmaking that yields mixed results.

Synopsis: A group of estranged friends gather for a night of tradition which takes a deadly turn after old secrets and wounds resurface.

The Razing is a curious film in that for the most part it confines its characters to one room while also trying to build a wider world around it. It is often a compelling device for horror, the increasing tension and claustrophobia driving characters to increasingly desperate acts. The Razing leans into this tradition, trapping warring characters in a lavish space, removing them from the escalating concerns of the outside world.

The clever thing that The Razing does is introduce characters who are so clearly in crisis and cannot stand to be around one another from the outset, with the sniping starting almost immediately. These scenarios always lead you to wonder, as a viewer, how any of these people are friends or why they are still in contact, but the film sets out that these are a group mainly connected by a dark past, attending out of obligation rather than genuine desire to be around one another. Remaining within the confines of the room The Razing manages to blend the current day with their pasts, offering context and development. This is achieved by having two separate timelines operating within the space, one of the present and one of the past, in which characters’ younger selves walk seamlessly into the same space, taking the viewer across timelines in mere moments.

Early on, an overwhelming soundtrack holds the viewer at arm’s length, with booming music overpowering dialogue at times. With an already fractured group and tense conversation, this never quite lets you find a connection to the characters. This does, in some ways, add to the overall effect, only allowing you to find out the secrets between them as the group fractures. The setting too, is excellent, with the rich surroundings providing a clashing backdrop for the excesses and conflict taking place. The details of the acts taking place outside of the room are horrific,

Where the film struggles, for me, is using a near-constantly roaming camera. In some sections, like a move around the room to signify a timeline shift, this is an elegant way of moving between threads, as is the use of split-screen early on, visualising their conflict in an intriguing way. However, as the film progresses the camera is scarcely still, constantly exploring the space, even moving when characters are delivering monologues. The overall effect is a kind of queasy feeling normally reserved for found-footage films. A little more stability would go a long way in providing more connection with the characters and an ability to focus on performances, too. To some degree, you can understand the desire to offset the dialogue-heavy scenes and add some dynamic movement, but several sections are in need of moments of stillness to allow the horror to truly sink in.

While The Razing fully understands and portrays the horror of other people, some technical choices are likely to leave some overwhelmed and distant.

3 out of 5 stars

3 out of 5 stars

The Razing is distributed by Gravitas Ventures and will be released on September 27th, 2022 to TVOD and DVD and on SVOD and AVOD 90 days after.

Camping Trip

A host of interesting stylistic choices can’t sell this muddled horror.

Synopsis: In the summer of 2020, two couples decide to go on a COVID era camping trip after months of being in lockdown. The freedom of nature and the company of their best friends offer the group a rare sense of normality, but though secluded, they’re not alone. Nearby, during a botched drop off, two goons decide to go rogue; inadvertently, implicating the campers. What started as a fun-filled vacation quickly turns into a test of loyalty and survival. Suddenly the pandemic is the least of their worries.

Ace (Alex Gravenstein), Coco (Hannah Forest Briand), Enzo (Leonardo Fuica) and Polly (Caitlin Cameron) are two couples, heading into the wilderness for a much-needed catch-up after they have been separated by the pandemic. As ever, in the horror genre, their trip does not go as planned, throwing them into a dire situation.

Camping Trip will immediately split viewers, depending on the individual capacity for mentions of Covid (including the now very unnatural sounding use of Covid-19 which outside of medical briefings has largely disappeared from conversational use). Each reference that the script makes feels clumsy, so focused on positioning itself within a time and place that it almost forgets to weave it into normal conversation. The virus is a recurring theme and driving force within the film, taking on various functions as the film progresses. Whereas some pandemic films use the situation as a means to explore loneliness or the need for connection, this keeps returning to a far more literal take.

The film itself was shot in 2020 with strict health and safety measures in place, so it is likely that the use of this language and the preoccupation with it is largely due to the proximity to the initial wave. It does present the risk of filmmaking so reliant on a specific time, however, as it ages rather quickly. Other productions tend to offer little in terms of actually naming the pandemic, or avoid it entirely, so this complete focus does jar somewhat.

There is a relatively simple story throughout the film, although this is clouded by lengthy sequences (almost always featuring time-lapse photography) that linger, rather than add to either plot or tone. It has the effect of making it feel much longer than it is for the story to be told. Character decisions and motivations do not hold up to any scrutiny, resulting in times when the film is almost directionless. The slower opening that takes time to introduce the characters and their dynamics is solid and it is a shame this isn’t felt more keenly throughout.

The third act, in particular, feels like a vast departure from the rest and unfortunately ends up leaning into some tired tropes, including the threat of sexual violence as shorthand for villainy. That sense of it being ‘thrown in’ for that effect quickly sours. That last act, however, does feature some of the film’s more interesting choices, opting for a revolving camera to punctuate its sudden burst of action. In doing so, directors Demian and Leonardo Fuica manage to make the most of their effects in addition to adding a sense of chaos to proceedings. With numerous scenes feeling somewhat static, the use of this device does assist in adding drama.

Overall, Camping Trip is perhaps best viewed as an example of the kind of filmmaking that comes from restrictions. Despite the flaws, it exists as a display of how filmmakers can react to world events and capture those moments.

2 out of 5 stars

2 out of 5 stars

Camping Trip will be available on Digital Download from 16th August and available to pre-order here.

What Josiah Saw

A gloomy horror focused on dark family secrets.

What Josiah Saw poster

Synopsis: A family with buried secrets reunite at a farmhouse after two decades to pay for their past sins.

The Graham family is troubled, to put it lightly. Tommy (Scott Haze) lives at the now neglected farmhouse with his father Josiah (Robert Patrick). His twin siblings, Eli (Nick Stahl) and Mary (Kelli Garner) are estranged, both battling their own demons. When the land is to be sold, the family must reunite to confront their history.

What Josiah Saw is split into clearly defined sections that focus first on Tommy, Eli and Mary separately to begin with before bringing all threads together for the final act. This is a strength of the film, allowing you to understand each of the characters before seeing them interact. This effect is furthered by each segment having different tones, looks and feels to drive home how fractured they are while also adding to the control the house appears to have over them. It is the kind of story you could easily see expanded to a series of episodes and would perhaps sit more comfortably within that format with an ability to dig into those characters further. This is not to say that the characters aren’t clear within the film, as they are, but there is the sense that the writing could peel back further layers.

With a two-hour runtime, Josiah is a slow-burning narrative. This, along with the grim subject matter that permeates the film will make it a difficult sell for some. The overwhelming influence of troubling patriarchal figure Josiah (played to perfection by Robert Patrick) looms large over the film with his unpredictable, aggressive drunk immediately setting up a distinct discomfort. The horror here, while it is keen to prod at belief systems and the afterlife, is mainly situated in the haunting situations the characters find themselves in. Moments of jolting horror work incredibly well, bursting through whenever the emotion seems to swell beyond concrete reality.

What Josiah Saw is incredibly matter-of-fact in the presentation of its flawed characters, often allowing their sins to be vocalised by those around them. The characters are never allowed to forget where they have come from or the things they have done. Eli is ostracised and isolated due to his crimes and that isolation forces him into ever more dangerous situations. His thread seems the longest here, featuring a sequence at a Romani community (note: there are several uses of slurs within this that illustrate the kind of background Eli and his cohorts are from). This section does feel prolonged, seemingly introduced to showcase that this call to right a wrong is not only based in Josiah’s religious belief but an overall calling. Tommy is isolated too by his difficulties and proximity to Josiah, whose unusual behaviours keep others at bay.

The theme of reckoning hangs over the film and indeed, the righting of wrongs is a central driving force for characters. It is notable that Miriam, their long-departed mother, is repeatedly viewed in sainted terms by the family and those outside it. This makes Mary’s thread the more interesting one, for me at least, so it is a shame that only a relatively small amount of surface discussion is given over to her own reckoning with motherhood and being a wife. Outside of her loudly soundtracked, dark workouts, a slow, ominous zoom on a ‘Live, Laugh, Love’ sign that heralds a triggering moment for Mary is just one of the ways the film captures her discomfort in cosy domesticity. Kelli Garner’s performance is so good that you want to see more of her narrative than is provided.

There is something to be said for horror that truly leans into its bleakness. Comparisons to the likes of The Dark and The Wicked and even The Righteous are understandable given their focus on uncovering secrets and the darkness within generations. What Josiah Saw stands as perhaps a more mellow, grounded take on those themes, although keeps those stabs of horror strings for its most dramatic moments to truly unnerve. The final act does deliver on all the slower discomfort it has built, landing several gut punches that are all the more jolting for the

What Josiah Saw is a confronting work with some balancing issues in terms of the weight given to character stories.

3.5 out of 5 stars

3.5 out of 5 stars

What Josiah Saw streams on Shudder from August 4th. Available on Shudder U.S., Shudder CA, Shudder UKI, and Shudder ANZ.

The Tortured Soul

An effective short with an excellent performance from Bianca Stam.

Short films can occasionally fall into the trap of doing too much or too little, becoming either advertisements for an eventual feature or straining a run time to include as much as possible. It is to The Tortured Soul‘s credit, then, that this short has the ability to refer to a much wider situation and context while also placing a direct focus on just one section of the story.

Utilising the arresting image above of Tamara (Bianca Stam), a well-dressed, seemingly composed woman sitting opposite a man who appears to be held hostage, the short immediately grabs your attention. The juxtaposition between the pair is striking, with the seemingly plush surroundings having been interrupted by violence. The film returns to the shot as the film develops, allowing that sense of a ticking clock towards further violence to take effect.

Otherwise, the camera finds itself mostly trained on Bianca Stam’s Tamara who is required to deliver a near-monologue that has to encapsulate both characters’ experiences thus far. It is enormously impressive that given the relative simplicity of the setting and the lack of another performer to bounce off in the usual way that she is able to fully embody the character of Tamara. This is an emotionally heavy piece of work that she is able to handle with skill. The camera rests on her more often than not, allowing her to take up that space and gradually turn up the volume.

Within the space of 10 minutes, this short interrogates the haunting presence of trauma and grief while also questioning what revenge may mean to those impacted. In removing distractions and placing such a focus on Tamara this short manages to do something different with a frequently used narrative.

The Tortured Soul is currently playing at festivals.

Dashcam and the New Censorship

I should start this article by saying with all of the following in mind, that if people want to see Dashcam they should and if people enjoy it then that is also fine. I pick up on this mostly because of how quickly the ripple it created turned into something rather ugly, played out without evidence and serves as an example of how quickly and forcefully things can escalate with only speculation to go on as well as how it relates to wider cinema practices. These are only my thoughts.

On June 3rd, Dashcam, the eagerly awaited follow-up to 2020 mega-hit Host will launch in cinemas. Well, at least in some cinemas. On June 1st director Rob Savage tweeted what appeared to be a screenshot from a Vue Cinema Help DM conversation. The tweet reads ‘Apparently @vuecinemas have canceled our screenings of DASHCAM because the movie is too offensive! If that doesn’t make you want to watch this film, what will?’.

The above text came without context, source or verification (with even Savage’s share only offering ‘apparently’ yet instantly the outrage began. Horror fans are perhaps uniquely attuned to concerns about censorship, with the Video Nasties era still very much in the memory (more on that later). That art, no matter how problematic or ‘risky’ should be free to be shown, find an audience and be embraced is very much at the forefront for many horror fans and the option has always been to not watch something if it doesn’t appeal to you or crosses your own personal boundary in some fashion. Despite some of the team seemingly not knowing what had happened the sharing of outraged voices against censorship continued. Film Stories issued an update to the story that included a Vue statement that the decision to not screen the film was due to ‘commercial conditions’. The statement was also featured on their Twitter feed at just after 4pm.

As of the time of writing, only writer Gemma Hurley has referenced the Vue statement, writing, ‘I don’t know what is going on but I’ll take it.’ Despite this, the fact that the film was now banned (although it was only ever Vue Cinema singled out – Showcase are showing the film, for example). Elsewhere the ‘film they don’t want you to see’ became another calling card for a film already mired in controversy.

At this stage, I’ll be upfront. I have had no intention of watching Dashcam for some time. I believe that pandemic-focused projects do have a place and are arguably an ideal vehicle for exploring the various thoughts, feelings and realisations we’ve all experienced. They are, to some extent, a kind of processing. Whether it is the angry monologues of Together or the return-to-earth paranoia of In The Earth, those projects all have something to say about the time. I also believe the same to be true of Dashcam. While cries of ‘fake news’ have been with us from around 2016 and the creep of insincerity (as explored excellently in Feels Good, Man) the pandemic brought numerous responses. Anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists and ‘alternative facts’ flourished in the online space, forcing everyone together, often at a time of loneliness, desire for connection, fear and even profound personal loss. It makes sense then that the team behind Host (which was a pleasingly mean-spirited Zoom found-footage effort) would seek to exploit that for another zeitgeist-harnessing horror movie. The central concept of Dashcam being a loud, brash streamer with offensive views having a night from hell seemed to be the antithesis of the ‘good for her’ genre in which the central protagonist was about as unlikeable on the surface as possible. Is it an exercise in empathy for those you are opposed to? Is it a button-pressing thrill ride? Is it both? The issue for me in this is I don’t think I can find it in myself to laugh at what the film needs me to laugh at – I’m not sure I can sit in the company of someone like that when immersed in it every day. Maybe one day I’ll be able to, I’ll watch the film and be able to return to this post and reflect.

The selection of Annie Hardy to play Dashcam‘s central figure is an interesting one. Hardy seemingly shares many of the same views as the character within the film, bringing a flavour of pro-wrestling kayfabe to the film. The tweets below are just a small sample of the kind of conspiracy-style thinking that was on display. Whether this is a kind of performance art or true belief is an almost further step in the evolution of found-footage horror – leaving viewers to discern how much they are seeing is ‘real’ in a way as yet widely unexplored by the genre.

It is of course, anyone’s right to not give money to someone they disagree with – to choose a different option, watch a different film and choose to consume something else if the ethics behind it don’t suit. However, one tweet really did trouble me and seemingly prompted a reaction from the team behind Dashcam for an appeal to kindness to their star.

For a film that deliberately walked the tightrope between reality and fiction, offensive schlock and gory rollercoaster ride, this felt like an incredibly troubling insight. We all forget far too often that there are other people on the other side of our computers and it makes it very easy to dehumanise and level increasing abuse at disembodied profile pictures. Some of the issue here, though, is that the appeal for kindness didn’t go both ways – the conspiratorial thinking and terming of men as ‘pussies’ no longer able to ‘protect’ women and children and other references to gender have an impact. Take for example the recent discussion around the conversion therapy ban in the UK. Conversion therapy, it was decided, would not be allowed to be levelled against the LGB members of that community – deemed cruel, outdated and ultimately damaging. However, a notable portion of the community was still at risk – seemingly not subject to the same standard of cruelty. That the trans community were regarded as fair game for treatment too cruel for others is about the most dehumanising thing I can imagine.

What on earth does this have to do with a screenshot, then? While we are unlikely to know the exact terms of what went on there are a few options. 1. a rogue Vue Cinema social media person decided to make something up. 2. a faked screenshot was created by someone and forwarded to the team who accepted it as real and shared it in upset/anger. 3. this is a viral marketing strategy that perfectly aligns with the blurring boundaries the film already seeks to exploit. 4. Vue did ‘ban’ the film for content then lied when they saw the backlash. 5. any other number of options you care to dig for. The important thing is, that despite any actual confirmation, the news created some responses like this. Names have been redacted but at last check were still there.

The ‘guarantee’ that LGBT+ employees complained is something, as yet, unchallenged by the team. Although there is certainly an argument to be made for either not seeing it or choosing to ignore so as not to give them the oxygen of publicity – both of which are completely understandable positions to take. As someone not accustomed to the kind of attention online that the team are I can only imagine how much they must not see or that slips under the radar. Elsewhere, there were references to the Video Nasties with some celebration that we had a new one. The film ‘they’ don’t want you to see for some horror fans still means the old moral guardians – the ones passing laws that state what you can and can’t see. There’s little surprise when you look at the flurry of film censorship talk in 2010 at the start of the new Conservative government that film is often still a target. However, in this case, it seems the ‘they’ refers to something new – a group, that as already discussed is still having laws passed about their right to exist safely. It seems a stretch that a group of people who are still subject to prejudice have the kind of power being implied here. The original tweet referred to a staff screening too, prompting this reaction from one person.

At the time of writing, this tweet had been liked by Rob Savage. Obviously, this could be a misclick or a response in anger and upset at the film having lost a valuable big-screen opportunity. I can’t help but feel disappointment though, especially alongside likes on tweets that reference identifying as a dinosaur, for example. In the same way as the earlier tweeter guaranteed the LGBT community were behind it, young employees were now to blame – seemingly exerting a huge amount of power over their employers. The original tweet laid the blame at the staff level – not higher-ups, not the BBFC but firmly on the shoulders of people working on the ground. Angry messages that took aim at diversity placed the team shoulder to shoulder with Twitter users who included slurs in their biographies. Again, the sheer volume of responses they get likely means they don’t see all of it and I’m by no means suggesting someone needs to do a thorough background check on everyone they tweet to – just that when this is the conversation, you run the risk of aligning with those who do have views that directly impact on the lives of other people.

If Dashcam is intended as a satire of the views displayed, or a comment/critique, it is interesting that it has attracted, at least in part, those who do identify with those views. The Pub Landlord comedy character was retired when the team behind the character started to realise he had been adopted, not as a figure of satire but as a genuine foothold for the ‘silent majority’. Whether this was an intentional marketing strategy or not is rather beyond the point – it has resulted in numerous results – a heap of angry messages to Vue, requests of indie cinemas to show the film and potentially an uptake in other cinema viewings and VOD on Monday. The ‘ban’ whether it existed or not is a symbol for reactionary anger played out online with a genie very difficult to put back into the bottle but one that speaks to the wider situation within cinema. The Video Nasty era has seemingly been characterised as a badge of honour, rather than the destructive force it was. Working filmmakers grew up with the mythos of those films so it makes sense that they would want an element of the danger that came with them without the full damaging consequences. An exclusion from one cinema chain is small in comparison to being subject to prosecution for merely owning a video tape, for example.

Aside from this, if you take Vue’s statement as the truth then the more pertinent question to ask is why is not showing it down to commercial conditions? My local cinema (a Vue branch, although the case is clear across the chains) has 10 screens. On Thursday 2nd June at the time of publishing, Maverick is playing 16 times. Doctor Strange and The Bob’s Burgers Movie are playing 4 times. Men is playing 3 times. Everything Everywhere All At Once has one screening. Would there be a considerable impact to drop, for example two screenings of Maverick for a smaller title like Dashcam? Rather than any individual or group, the larger studios are placing restrictions on how many times their films must show, taking up huge amounts of time and space in the schedules and who can compete with their advertising budgets? Independent art cinemas have limited budgets to compete and yet offer greater diversity in their film lineups, often providing access at a reasonable cost to films that would otherwise be unseen. Furthermore, post-pandemic viewing has seen VOD releases come to provide greater access to those for whom a cinema screening is not possible – if you have one screening a day and a criminally under-funded and under-staffed public transport network it blocks many people from enjoying the cinema experience and the films they wish to see. If those films aren’t seen, cinemas see no value in showing them and so the cycle continues.

The controversy around Dashcam will come and go and when everything settles it will be interesting to see where the film lies in terms of reception. Rather than this situation becoming a breeding ground for some of the negative, damaging attitudes that have been displayed, I’d love to see it as a force for change, for consumers to kindly, without anger, approach cinemas more often to ask for films. Make your desire to watch more indie movies, smaller movies, weirder movies clearer without the need for finger pointing and perhaps we’ll finally see a shift in the domination that the big studios currently have.

The Innocents

A mostly successful examination of the capacity for cruelty that spotlights a talented young cast.

Synopsis: During the bright Nordic summer, a group of children reveal their dark and mysterious powers when the adults aren’t looking. In this original and gripping supernatural thriller, playtime takes a dangerous turn.

We are first introduced to Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) as she indulges in two moments of unprovoked cruelty. She forcefully steps on a worm and in the car with her non-verbal sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) turns to pinch her, seemingly testing the boundaries for inflicting pain without being stopped. This simmering anger is brought into sharp focus by a burgeoning new friendship with Ben (Sam Ashraf), a young boy displaying otherworldly abilities. Along with Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim), the group begin to expand their abilities, but soon distinct personal differences begin to drive a substantial wedge between them.

Sinister children are nothing new in horror, but Eskil Vogt’s The Innocents is a film unafraid to head in some dark directions, primarily functioning as a study of developing empathy (or the lack of) in its young characters. The characters testing their limits, studying surroundings and consequences of actions and the imapct on other people does lead to some grisly scenes. One scene in question will be an incredibly difficult watch for cat lovers and mileage will vary on how necessary viewers deem it. Personally, I found it a vital scene that portrays the differences between the characters involved incredibly effectively, but it is justly difficult to watch nonetheless.

Another element that some may struggle with is neurotypical performer Alva Brynsmo Ramstad portraying neurodivergent, non-verbal character Anna. While the presentation of Anna is positive (especially in contrast to Ida’s anger) and her relationship with Aisha is moving, there are moments where this veers into the trope of the ‘magical disabled person’ and a particular plot thread involving her condition sits uncomfortably. Vogt did consult with families with autistic children as part of the writing process but the final product does, at times, fall back into more regressive representation.

Where the film undoubtedly succeeds is in its use of space and movement. The flats that the children occupy are large, identical structures, appearing the same even when the camera swirls upside-down around them. The chilly, anonymous effect this creates lends a huge amount of atmosphere and the nearby woodland that the children take to exploring is, at first, a freer, more relaxed space of texture and opportunity. That space is more malleable, more open to warping as the plot develops. There is a geography at work with the film returning to key areas like the woozy heights of the stairwell throughout the runtime. The relative anonymity and isolation that the flats offer, despite their proximity to one another comes to the surface in several important scenes to particularly upsetting effect.

The performances are excellent, especially as everyone involved is so young. Sam Ashraf perfectly embodies the hardly in control rage of Ben, answering every displayed vulnerability with a negative reaction. In contrast, Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim brings a huge amount of sensitivity and likeability to her role as Aisha with her seemingly cosmic empathy. Despite the potential discomfort around representation, Alva Brynsmo Ramstad is good as Anna, especially given her lack of dialogue. It is, however, Rakel Lenora Fløttum’s Ida who is the focal point here and deservedly so. Ida as a character is on the cusp of leaning into her cruelty or discovering compassion and Fløttum handles these changing positions incredibly well.

While the film is good at the more grounded, social elements of the plot, the central powers feel ill-defined. Early supernatural moments are technically competent, using more subtle means for the most part and it is this grounding that makes them work. The logic of those powers (even with the suspension of disbelief that comes with this kind of narrative) can be called into question, with some leaps in ability appearing so suddenly it feels like scenes have been cut. There is a sense that these developments are made specifically to drive moments of spectacle, which even when well-realised feel unnecessary when compared to the more effective, grounded and altogether more impactful moments. In addition to adding spectacle, these supplementary powers also serve as a functional way of moving the narrative along when it feels like the film has somewhat written itself into a corner.

The Innocents makes for a frequently uncomfortable watch, unafraid to indulge in its darker impulses and this is to its credit. While not wholly successful, a horror film that leans into making an unsettling atmosphere, disturbing set pieces and even some hard-won emotional threads should be on everyone’s radar.

3.5 out of 5 stars

3.5 out of 5 stars

The Innocents is released by Signature Entertainment in cinemas on May 20th.

Mums & Sons Pocketbook

A brand new pocketbook of horror film analysis is set to be released on May 6th from the brilliant Rebecca McCallum. To check out her online work, treat yourself to a look at her Linktree. Mums & Sons represents Rebecca’s first feature-length publication and you will not want to miss it.

Using three definitive horror texts, this exploration will take a close look at how these relationships operate across three major stages in life: boyhood (The Babadook), teenage years (Hereditary) and adulthood (Psycho). Touchstones in this examination will include – the damaging nature of secrets, the importance of setting, notions of doubling and duality, acts of repression, outsider status and one of the greatest taboos of all – the horror of motherhood.

With three excellent films under discussion, Mums & Sons should not be missed if you love horror and analysis. The book features Ken Wynne’s eye-catching art, including this striking piece of Annie from Hereditary hard at work with her miniatures.

The book has already received praise from numerous prominent reviewers, including Mae Murray (The Book of Queer Saints Horror Anthology) who calls the work ‘deeply reverent to horror’s psychological intricacies’. Tim Coleman (Moving Pictures Film Club) calls it ‘insightful, inquisitive and forensic’, while Amber T (Ghouls Magazine) has drawn attention to ‘Rebecca’s passion for genre cinema’.

You can order your copy right now ahead of the release on May 6th for only £7 from Plastic Brain Press.

Glasgow Film Festival 2022: Silent Land

An unsubtle but confident satirical thriller on privileged disconnection.

Synopsis: A perfect couple rents a holiday home on a sunny Italian island. The reality does not live up to their expectations when they find out that the pool in the house is broken. Ignorant of the fact that the island faces water shortage, they ask for someone to fix it. The constant presence of a stranger invades the couple’s idea of safety and starts a chain of events, which makes them act instinctively and irrationally, heading to the darkest place in their relationship.

Adam (Dobromir Dymecki) and Anna (Agnieszka Zulewska) are looking to enjoy a holiday together, remaining mostly secluded in an expensive villa home. Their ideas of remaining isolated are scuppered, however, when they demand to have their pool fixed. During the maintenance, an accident occurs that throws their holiday and relationship into flux in a deliberately told study of privileged apathy.

Agnieszka Woszczynska’s debut feature may be one of the most confident and tightly controlled debuts for some time. Long, static shots focus on the beauty of pastel-coloured surroundings while building an oppressive atmosphere. The camera moves slowly from these static bases, often panning to find characters in new moments of stillness. These moments come to reflect the film’s wider messaging about inaction with long pauses allowing the film’s decisions to rest heavily on those within and outside the frame.

Dymecki and Zulewska handle the material well, especially given how disconnected they have to be for much of the run time. The couple, although close, feel distant throughout, with even their intimacy and passion for one another becoming presented as detached and shrouded in darkness. Their increasingly terse interactions and particularly the unfurling of Adam’s confidence requires a lot from them, that they deliver convincingly, even when the situation leans into the more surreal side of satire. Language barriers create further tension as they are drawn into a process that neither entirely understand.

The political commentary on display is far from subtle and at times, this is to its detriment. The class divide is on stark display, as is the concept of entitlement. A recurring dog that encounters both the pool repair man and the couple at various points is the film’s most successful visual motif, reflecting the differences between them and the evolution of characters. The couple refer to the event that has thrown their holiday into chaos as an ‘uncomfortable situation’, seeking to play down its importance and impact.

Woszczynkska’s technical choices support the film’s power. With so many scenes involving the central pair remaining static, the brief sections where the pair attend a restaurant or town offer an element of vibrant respite from the coldness elsewhere. The warm colours and movement in a scene from the village highlight the difference between their increasingly closed off experience, punctuated by evolving paranoisa and self-questioning. Moments of jovial conversation are overlapped by the hum of a car engine, denying that connection. While all this builds tension and provides food for thought, the final scene offers perhaps the film’s most effective scene, arresting in its simplicity.

Agnieszka Woszczynska displays a tight control over her characters, bringing a sprawling, beautiful location into something sinister. The unrushed pace of this may not be for everyone, but its thematic power emanates from every scene.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Silent Land screened as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2022.